Outsourcing data centers
External help with a data center
a data center's day to day operations and infrastructure issues may call for
an external helping hand. Outsourcing part, or even the entire job can give
a company certain management and financial benefits if handled properly. Here's
a look at the various outsourcing options and ways to choose the right outsourcing
job for your organization. by Anil Patrick R
Not every organization has the financial capability and
skill sets to handle the functions of a data center in-house. And it's not feasible
for many organizations to set up one on their own, due to the lack of capital
investment. These organizations will ideally prefer to concentrate more on their
core businesses than set up a data center and look after management intricacies.
It is beneficial for such organizations to look at the
outsourcing option. If an organization is not much into technology, it
should stick to the core business. Outsourcing is easier for such businesses
than getting into issues like attracting the right talent, retaining and training
them for an in-house IT team, said Anil Gidh, Associate Director, Capgemini
India. Outsourcing is also beneficial for organizations wanting to cut costs
on supplementary tasks.
As companies all over the world focus more on core competencies
and reducing costs, processes that were earlier considered core activities,
are increasingly being outsourced. Organizations started hiring out activities
that added less value but required high resources. Further, as the volume of
data expanded, newer applications needed to be run, and data centers provided
just the opportunity and expertise, said Shivaji Chatterjee, Senior Director,
Sales and Marketing, HECL.
The outsourcing option
To outsource or not is not the question. Unless the organization
has a full-fledged IT team with the wide skill set range required for complete
data center management, outsourcing will be required. So the question is how
much to outsource?
The ratio of outsourcing to in-house management varies
across organizations. There is no standard approach for this. This will vary
across organizations according to the business needs and factors like in-house
capabilities. A mix and match of inhouse management and outsourcing is the optimal
This is where you need reliable partners who are
competent in the core issues like hardware and servers. As an IT team, we manage
the business issues, which is the information residing in the data center. The
partners manage the facility. This way we can render better service to the internal
customers, said V. Subramaniam, CIO, Otis.
Pros and cons have to be weighed carefully before making
the decision. By weighing the benefits, risks, costs, performance, and
overall value of outsourcing versus managing systems in-house, an organization
can create a highly focused strategy that serves as a roadmap for managing the
technology, said Ashok N. Shah, Executive Director (Internet Services),
See Outsourcing risks for some of the drawbacks
of going in for outsourcing.
According to Avinash J, President, Sify Hosting, some of
the commonly available options when outsourcing data center operations are the
Full IT Function: Clients outsource full responsibility
for the ongoing operation and management of their entire IT functionfrom
planning, to developing and maintaining applications, to operating data centers
Design, build and operate: This offers complete application
services to the organizationfrom the design, configuration and implementation
of a system, to its ongoing maintenance and operation.
Application Service Provider (ASP): ASPs usually provide
their services on a subscription or monthly fee basis, thus eliminating the
need for organizations to spend large sums up-front purchasing software or hardware.
ASPs also generally take responsibility for installing, maintaining, and upgrading
the software and perform vital central data center functions. However, this
is usually done on a remote or automatic basis. The organization must still
assign staff to run and maintain the software applications.
Business Service Provider: Provides business process services
like CRM, SCM, and financial management on a service provider model.
On Demand Computing: Provides computing resources like
servers, storage, and bandwidth to clients as and when required by the client.
This way, the investment made by the organization on computing resources is
minimal and it has the option of renting additional capacity when required.
There has been a paradigm shift in the Internet Data Center
(IDC) space in terms of services being offered. The shift of IDCs from being
just infrastructure providers to providers of a range of services has been very
As outsourcing became more acceptable to enterprises, enterprises
started outsourcing more to data centers. Data centers started offering
equipment on rent/lease and became pre-launch test beds for applications. They
also started offering value-added services like OS administration, database
administration, security services, both remote and on-site, said Avinash
It is important to consider the management and financial
benefits at this stage. Small organizations without the large IT capabilities
required to run a data center can get the best value for money by outsourcing
the entire data center. This will involve co-location at an IDC as well as outsourcing
the management. The very rapid technological obsolescence rate is another factor
that deters companies from getting into having their own data centers. Using
a co-location facility can be beneficial in combating this since most facilities
have options to lease out infrastructure like servers and storage.
The outsourcing options available start right from basic
co-location services to managed services, remote management, and disaster recovery.
The options available on the management front are the services offered by IDCs
as well as those offered by infrastructure management specialists and vendors.
Some of the common services offered by IDCs are server
performance and storage management. Remote management of organizational setups
is also being offered by data centers. IDCs are also getting into facilities
management with onsite staff.
Managed security services offered include those like managed
firewalls, intrusion detection, and prevention. Disaster recovery and business
continuity solutions are also becoming integral parts of the service offerings.
On-demand services are also catching on in a major way in IDCs.
Making the right choice
The following parameters are helpful when choosing an outsourcing
A good reputation and track record, supplemented by site
visits to earlier and existing projects is a good starting point. Checking sample
documentation generated for previous/ existing customers is also helpful. Cross
checking if the vendor is capable of fulfilling the promises he makes, and going
through audit reports are also important and can be done at this stage. Also
check the financial strength of the partner.
It is important to be able to calculate the amount of flexibility
that the vendor will provide. The outsourcing partner must be able to respond
quickly to changes. Turnaround times should also be very minimal in a data center-based
infrastructure model. Simulating a sudden failure will help in finding out the
turn around times as well as the reaction that the vendor will display in an
On the human resources front, the vendor must have the
suitable capability in terms of suitably skilled personnel. He must also be
capable enough to provide additional resources when required. For instance,
at times when sudden infrastructure expansion happens due to unanticipated requirements.
Once the validity of these parameters has been ascertained,
it is necessary to look at the most crucial aspectcost. It is necessary
to have reduced costs of owning and maintaining high-end resources without compromising
on the service level quality.
Evaluating the price-performance metrics, needs to
be any CIO/CTO's primary selection criterion. Clients need to have their requirements
clearly defined, and rate potential providers based primarily on the qualities
of the service offering, skillsets, expertise, and experience the provider has
in servicing similar clients, said Sharad Sanghi, CEO & MD, Netmagic
When all the conditions are satisfactory, it is time to
negotiate an SLA. SLAs detail various items like infrastructure and the scope
of services provided. These generally cover parameters like expected uptime,
number and cost of expected resource utilization, financial penalties, resolution
times, maintenance windows applicable for each environment, cost per application/
per server/ per database, and reporting requirements.
It will also have frequency of meetings, and escalation
procedures within the customer and the Outsourcing Service Provider (OSP). Normally,
an SLA details the service level expected for each characteristic, type of coverage
(24x7, 24x5, working hours only), DR parameters, backup criteria, and machine
resources usage. The SLA should also list exclusions. Exclusions are the jobs
not covered in the SLA like performance tuning, ad-hoc reporting, and upgrades,
said Sagar Sule, VP - Technical & Operations, Cyquator Technologies.
Unless measurement is done on the quality of outsourced
services, it is difficult to keep track of the service levels. This is why performance
metrics are critical for effective SLA reviews.
The most common means of obtaining outsourcing performance
metrics are monthly uptime reports, Web portal reports, MRTG reports, and application
response reports. However, as the data size increases, these methods can become
quite difficult to manage. In such a situation it is necessary to deploy SLA
compliance measurement tools. These tools can generate graphical as well as
Anil Patrick R can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|The data center checklist
Sharad Sanghi suggests certain useful questions that
need to be asked when choosing a co-located hosting option. Certain questions
apply only when organizations look for managed hosting partners.
Facilities and Infrastructure Criteria
- Does the data center have redundant precision air-conditioning required
to maintain an optimal environment for servers and network devices?
- Does the data center have multiple redundancies built into their
power infrastructure to prevent any electrical downtime?
- Is the data center built to conform to world-class standards for
- Does the data center provide quality, scalable rack and cage solutions
that are tailor-made to the customer's requirements?
- How scalable is the infrastructure? Are there glass ceilings that
could hamper customers' scalability?
- Is the facility a stand-alone, independent structure for maximum
- Is the bandwidth, connectivity and peering infrastructure adequate?
How proactively is it upgraded, and how frequently?
- How remote is the data center from your office? Is it within city
limits, or located at inconvenient remote fringe areas?
Service and support criteria
- Can the provider offer you end-to-end solutions for a holistic managed
- Can they supplement a quality hosting environment with end-to-end
managed services, to cater to your requirements?
- Do they have a history of provisioning customized solutions tailor-made
to customer specifications for their previous customers?
- Do they have a 24x7x365 helpdesk staffed with skilled engineers who
can attend to helpdesk calls at odd hours?
- Remote monitoring and managementcan they do it? Do they use
world-class, best-of-breed software to do so?
- Do they have an established customer list with long-standing clients
that are some of the most prolific names in industry?
- References and testimonials-can their customers vouch for them?
- Do they have a carrier-neutral and vendor-neutral approach?
- Do they have clearly defined SLAs and escalation procedures?